Each Vietnamese ethnic group has its own festivals, customs, beliefs, and cultural practices. Tet (the Lunar New Year) of Dao ethnic group lasts for half of a month, during which many exciting cultural and community activities take place.  

The Dao ethnic minority. Photo: Cong dong Nguoi Dao

In the morning of the first Lunar New Year’s Day which falls on February 1 this year, the Dao people in the northwestern province of Lao Cai joined “le lay nuoc” (water getting ritual).

The house owner takes a bowl of water from on the ground at the foot of the altar in the house (on the previous day, he must have checked that the bowl is at least half-full) and takes it to a spring near his house. 

He places the bowl and votive paper on the ground and lights three incense sticks and puts them nearby. He then pours water from the spring into another bowl and places it next to the first.

He says prayers, as follows: “God of water, please support our family, make everyone healthy and lucky in business, and ensure we always have water for our farm and household so that everyone will have drinking water and will be good. We will never forget your help, God of Water. Now, would you like to come to our house to celebrate Tet with us?”

 The “Dao quan chet” ethnic people are preparing their traditional sticky rice cake for Lunar New Year. Photo: Hung Thinh

He then lifts two bowls of water to see which is heavier. If the new one is, it means his family will be healthy and lucky year-round and his crops will not be damaged by drought, and there will be enough water for household needs and farming.

He burns the votive paper to send it to God of Water before taking the new bowl of water home to put under the altar. On the second day of Tet, each village holds a firewood-collecting ceremony.

To conduct the ceremony, they choose six or seven young unmarried people. At first, a sorcerer asks God of Forest to allow the people to go into the forest to collect firewood.

Then, he reads out the names of these people so that God of Forest and ancestors know and protect them during their trip.

After offerings have been made, the sorcerer throws up a handful of rice over the altar and signals, and all the chosen people set off.

The “Dao quan chet” ethnic girls. Photo: Hung Thinh

They can collect only dead branches. They are not allowed to cut living branches as doing so at the beginning of the new year is believed to insult God of Forest.

When the firewood is brought home, they use it to boil water. They make tea to take to the sorcerer for him to offer to God of Forest.

Then follows a party for all members of the village.

As one of Vietnam’s 54 nationalities, the Dao community has an estimated population of nearly 900,000.

They mostly reside in northern mountainous provinces like Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Lao Cai and Yen Bai. Their main economic activities are farming in rocky areas, weaving, and silver craft-making.
The Dao ethnic group’s cultural values are illustrated through housing architecture, costumes, jewelry, food and traditional craft. However, market economy has driven some cultural rituals into oblivion.